Incite/Insight Winter 2019 FINAL Incite Insight Winter 2019 - Page 21

21 I n c i t e / I ns i ght people seems almost genre- breaking and bold. Can you talk about the experience of making a professional production with an ensemble of young artists? Tangela Large: Yeah, I treated this production just like a professional production. We did have “classes” before the actual rehearsal process, but my main objective —as far as the classes— were to create a safe space where the MPS students could bond. Kindred minds and bodies are the foundation for ensemble building. If I used any theatre rhetoric that was unheard of, I would simply define the word, use it in context, and move forward. Demanding the best brings out the best. I came into the room expecting nothing less than professional behavior. To add, a good queen wants balance and health for her people. Some days we danced, some days we sung, but every day we laughed! AA: It seems to me that directing this piece in Alabama—at the state theatre nonetheless— carries additional electricity. The night I saw the production, I sat near the first African American female congresswoman (Congresswoman Terri Sewell) and directly next to an African American patron in her 80s— who vividly recalled her time in the 60s. Can you talk about the significance (and pressure) of directing Four Little Girls in the very state? TL: I’ve never really suppressed my voice, but I have learned diplomacy. The only “pressure” that I felt was to make sure that when the elders—white and black folks that were reared in the civil rights movement—saw this production, they would feel a sense of accountability and joy in W i n te r 20 1 9 connection to the storytelling. The truth is that Montgomery remains the heart of the confederacy rooted in a lot of past trauma that needs awareness and attention. If we as a [national] collective are never willing to sit in our truths, then how can we ever heal? I constantly thought about Sarah Collins Rudolph, Addie Mae’s baby sister, and the life she has lived. She exists within this void of grief, PTSD—sister, daughter, friend, activist, artist, historian, and most importantly a young girl whose childhood was “blown away.” You’re not necessarily a part of the four little girls because you survived, but you’re also forgotten in a sense because you survived. I dedicated my rehearsals to Sarah, with the hope that she would attend and walk away proud and comforted with a happy memory of her big sister. Her validation was all that mattered; after opening night she smiled and said, “Y’all got it right”. AA: It seems to me when directing work about America’s painful nature, there is an advantage to directing young people in the story—it adds to the stakes in a way. Particularly because these artists aren’t “professional actors,” there’s a rawness or a realness to the context of their portrayals which adds power to the event. Can you reflect on this a bit? For more reluctant audience members who might be made uncomfortable by the content, do you think it is harder for them to reject a production which activates the voices of local young people to tell the story? TL: That’s a great question! Children walk fully in their truth. Children are blunt—very blunt. Tact, diplomacy, and wisdom strengthen as you get older (we hope). My kids were very, very honest with me, especially when we had conversations surrounding the play’s language and what I expected from them as storytellers. We talked about privilege, narrow-minded friends at school, and what the assumed response would be with this show. With age comes a lot of emotional suppression, and there is nothing more powerful than a child speaking truth to power versus adults. If a child is courageous enough, then what’s your excuse? A lot of them really hoped that the audience would walk away understanding how Four Little Girls was actually centered around more promise than trauma. Some of them were petrified because their friendships were threatened if classmates discovered that they used the “n-word” in the play. It was undoubtedly hard, but they were brave. I told them that they had to be steel. What is steel? One of my kids shouted: “It’s strong and reflective.” Exactly. I challenged them to hold up a mirror and honor the experience of Addie, Cynthia, Carole, and Denise. I told them to dedicate their performances to those girls. Just because it’s your truth doesn’t mean that it’s someone else’s truth. To tell this story is a privilege. Alex Ates is a member of AATE’s Board of Directors. He is also the Managing Editor of Incite/Insight.